St Michael Bassishaw
|St. Michael Bassishaw|
Current photo of site
|Denomination||Church of England|
St. Michael Bassishaw aka Michael Basinshaw, was a church in the City of London located on Basinghall Street, on land now covered by the Barbican Centre complex. Recorded since the 12th century, the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, then rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. The rebuilt church was demolished in 1900.
St. Michael Bassishaw was one of seven churches in the City of London dedicated to the Archangel Michael. "Bassishaw" comes from Basing’s haw, Basing being the name of a prominent family in medieval London and ‘haw’ meaning yard.
From the fifteenth century the dean and chapter of St Paul's Cathedral were patrons of the church.
The earliest surviving reference to the church is in a deed of 1196, as “St Michael de Bassishaghe”.
A 14th-century parish priest of St Michael’s, by the name of William, dug a ditch outside the church to assert his right of way. He was obliged by civic authorities to fill it in again.
In 1662, Francis Hall - a chaplain to Charles II - was appointed Rector. He fled the parish upon the outbreak of the Great Plague of London in 1665, and returned only in 1670 to collect his stipend. His substitute, a priest called Williams, succumbed to the plague in September 1665, along with this wife and three children.
Excavations in the late 19th century and again, in 1965, showed that the north wall of the 12th-century church had been built over Roman and medieval rubbish pits, so had to be strengthened by buttresses. The church was rebuilt in the 15th century and restored in 1630. All was lost in the Great Fire of 1666.
Rebuilding began in 1675 and completed four years later. The work was unsatisfactory. The contractor, John Fitch, encountered problems with the foundations on the east end, so removed them and piled the ground. The walls were faced with brick, instead of the usual stone and the load-bearing Corinthian columns were described as "specimens of…jerry-building…made up of several sorts of materials and plastered over." By 1693, the parish was lobbying Wren to provide resources for repairs. By the turn of the century, the church was being shored up and in need of repair. This was undertaken in 1713, when the upper parts of the walls were taken down and rebuilt, the slate roof replaced with a lead roof and a steeple added. The total cost of rebuilding was £5,704.
The tower, also of brick, was to the west of the church. The steeple, probably designed by Robert Hooke, took the form of an octagonal drum surmounted by a lantern, from which emerged a trumpet shaped cone. On top of this was a ball and finial, now perched on the spire of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.
George Godwin described St Michael's as " a plain substantial building without any striking features". It was 70 feet long and 50 feet wide, divided into nave and aisles by Corinthian columns supporting an elaborate entblature and a coved ceiling. The plan was irregular, being smaller than the pre-Fire church. The main front was on the east, facing Basinghall Street and was unadorned, except for a large round headed window flanked by two round windows.
In the late 19th century, sanitary regulations obliged authorities to remove the human remains from St. Michael’s crypt. This revealed the weakness of the foundations. In 1892, the church was judged unsafe and the parish combined with that of St Lawrence Jewry. St. Michael Bassishaw was demolished in 1900 and the land sold to the City for £36,000. Part of the proceeds were used to build St. Michael Bassishaw in Edmonton. This was made redundant in 1992 and now contains flats.
Today the site previously occupied by St. Michael’s is covered by the courtyard of the Guildhall offices and the Barbican highwalk.
The plaster coat of arms in St. Michael Bassishaw – the grandest of those in any Wren church – can now be found in the Guildhall complex.
- "Notes on Old London Churches" Pearce, C.W: London, Winthrop & Co, 1909
- Allen, Thomas; Wright, Thomas (1839). The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark and Parts Adjacent 3. London: George Virtue. pp. 99–100.
- Jeffery, P: (1996). The city churches of Sir Christopher Wren. London: Hambledon Press.
- Godwin, George; John Britton (1839). The Churches of London: A History and Description of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis. London: C. Tilt.
- "Vanished churches of the City of London",Huelin, G: London, Guildhall Library Publications, 1996